- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 25, 2002

NICOSIA, Cyprus The government of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika remains under attack from Islamic militants and the ethnic Berber population despite his country's brisk economic growth.
During Mr. Bouteflika's three years in power, Algeria has reversed negative economic indicators and gained the confidence of international lending organizations.
The gross domestic product has grown to $60 billion, compared with $45 billion in 1998, while foreign debt has fallen from $30 billion to $21 billion in the three years.
Such figures are the envy of Algeria's key neighbors, Tunisia and Morocco, both of which rely on tourism for their main foreign currency income.
Algeria's economy is almost totally dependent on oil and related industries that account for 96 percent of its exports.
Although comforting in the immediate future, such a degree of economic dependence on oil might become a major problem in the long run, North African analysts say.
The economic success was achieved despite the Algerian government's inability to end the Islamic revolt that has been bleeding the country since early 1992, causing an estimated 200,000 deaths.
A decade later, the revolt remains a gnawing problem, undermining the government's credibility to some extent.
Mr. Bouteflika took over a country beset with a history of terror, obsolete economic infrastructure and an educational system in a shambles. The vocal independent press has remained highly critical of the president.
Cherif Ouazaani of the French-language weekly Jeune Afrique believes that much of the stinging criticism is not justified.
He points out that although the terrorist campaign last year by the Armed Islamic Groups (GIA) claimed 1,300 victims in a country of nearly 30 million, in 1997, the same number of people died in attacks every month.
"The army has become more adapted to the war against terrorism; security has returned to large portions of the country," he said. Among the results was a 17 percent increase in agricultural production last year, he added.
The government says that under the "civil concord" law introduced by Mr. Bouteflika, 6,000 Islamic militants have surrendered to the authorities.
The Berber unrest, particularly in the Kabylia mountains east of the capital, Algiers, continues to beleaguer the country. There are few solutions in sight, despite the recent acceptance of their Tamazight language as one of Algeria's official languages.
The Berbers' clamor for autonomy and their mass demonstrations in the past 12 months prompted a crackdown by the paramilitary gendarmerie, with an estimated 80 people killed and some 3,000 injured.
Despite the subsequent partial withdrawal of the paramilitary force, the region has remained tense, with Berber nationalists urging a boycott of the May 30 legislative elections.
Last week, some Algerian officials said the degree of insecurity in the Kabylia area made it virtually impossible to organize voting there. Opposition leaders, though, predict rigged voting.


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